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Winners and Losers - Malaysia

03 Oct 2016

First-corner chaos, fightbacks galore, dramatic retirements and a fourth winner of the season - Sunday's race at Sepang had a bit of everything. Several drivers left Malaysia on a high, but none more so than Daniel Ricciardo...


The Winners

Daniel Ricciardo

Our big winner for the second Grand Prix running - and where in Singapore he fell just short of his bid to snatch victory, this time he held on to a lead despite immense pressure. A first victory of the season (and for two years), vengeance for Monaco, and a clear gap in the fight for third in the championship. No wonder team boss Christian Horner believes he is driving better than anyone else at present.

Victory at Sepang obviously owed a little to luck in the form of Lewis Hamilton’s engine failure, but the manner in which he had defended what was then second place from a huge attack by team mate Max Verstappen in Turns 4, 5 and 6 showcased his fighting spirit and ensured this was no easy success despite the gift from Mercedes.

“I’m not sure still what happened to Lewis,” he said. “Obviously we got that one today. We gave him that one in Monaco, so I like to think it’s evened out, and I’ll definitely take the win.”

Red Bull

A first one-two in three years; a maximum 43-points banked to move well clear of Ferrari in the constructors' fight; a fierce but clean fight between their two drivers; and a sign of mutual respect from both at the end of the race. Only twice this year have Mercedes failed to win, and on both occasions - here and Spain - Red Bull have capitalised to full effect. Result!

Rosberg - and a champion's comeback?

What must have been going through the German’s head when he was spun in the first corner by the over-zealous Sebastian Vettel and fell as low as 21st? Even after recovering, he seemed doomed to a long fight up the order, while team mate and title rival Hamilton dominated out front...

And what then must have been going through his head 40 laps later, when Mercedes relayed the fact Hamilton had retired and he was now third? That a points lead it appeared he would relinquish had suddenly grown to 23 with just five races left...

Hamilton's retirement was obviously fortunate for Rosberg. But independent of that one incident, his comeback was a superb mix of aggression, precision and skill. His pass on Raikkonen may have earned him a 10-second penalty, but it also secured third, a piece of opportunistic brilliance not always associated with the German. This was a comeback that might just secure him a first world championship crown. He might not have actually won, but he must have felt like he did in the circumstances.

Vettel and sportsmanship

Having lost a long debate with the stewards concerning his actions at Turn 1, Vettel left Malaysia with the blame for tipping Nico Rosberg into a spin.

He may not have agreed with such a decision, but that didn't stop him apologising to Rosberg in both the media and via a private phone call. "I did my best under braking but I couldn't avoid the impact," was his public explanation. "It was an unfortunate chain reaction which ruined my race and Nico's one. I can't do more than apologise to Nico, because the accident had nothing to do with him."

Palmer and proving a point

Up until Sepang, Jolyon Palmer's rookie season in F1 has largely been a trial, as both he and team mate Kevin Magnussen struggle with the difficult Renault R.S.16.

The Briton should have scored points in Hungary, and would have done so but for a spin for which he still has no explanation. He has come close on several other occasions - he has five top-13 finishes, for example. 

Saturday did little to suggest his wait would end, as he wound up 19th following a qualifying performance he labelled 'pathetic'. But an inspired single-stop strategy played into his hands, and Palmer executed to perfection. 

"Point-scorer: It feels good!” he said. “I’m really happy. The race was really smooth – I wish it was always so straightforward! I was really disappointed with how qualifying went especially as I’d been feeling strong all weekend, so I’m glad the race went really well and we could make up for it today. 

“The car gave me everything I needed, we handled the tyres well and the team did a great job with strategy and pit stops. We got a little bit of a break as well; finally everything came together and we got it home to P10!"

The Williams pit crew

It's difficult to overplay just how impressive Williams have been in the pits this year. From 16 races, the team have now been fastest of anyone on 12 occasions. This was the third time clocking a stop of 2s or under. In such a competitive environment, it's impossible not be applaud such consistent brilliance.


The Losers

Sebastian Vettel and Turn 1 'torpedos'

It is not that long ago that Vettel was remonstrating with Daniil Kvyat for his first-corner lunge in China. In Malaysia it was the German's turn to be labelled a 'torpedo', as a lunge down the inside of Verstappen at Turn 1 failed in spectacular fashion...

Is there an underlying cause for the fact Vettel has now been involved in three first-corner accidents in 2016? The German will deny that vehemently, just as he denied in China that the collision with team mate Kimi Raikkonen was his fault, or that he had any degree of responsibility for a similar occurrence at Spa. But Sepang was more clear cut. The German may have managed to squeak ahead of Verstappen under braking, but going so deep into such a tight corner was always going to invite trouble - as indeed came to pass when he tagged Rosberg into a spin. The latter was able to continue, but Vettel's race was done: his front suspension smashed, the German was an early casualty in a race of high promise for Ferrari.

“I just got T-boned by a four-time World Champion out of control!” was Rosberg's deadpan verdict.

Verstappen meanwhile didn't miss the chance to turn the knife, having been criticised by Vettel for their Turn 1 collision at Spa earlier this year. "He just dived up the inside, braked way too late, he just T-boned Nico. And I had to avoid the crash. It compromised my race as well.  He wants to win the race in the first corner, which is, of course, ridiculous."

The race stewards largely agreed, handing Vettel a three-place grid penalty for Suzuka.

Lewis Hamilton

Just when he seemed set to add a seventh 2016 victory to his tally and to reclaim the world championship lead after a near-perfect weekend, the reigning champion’s Mercedes blew its engine without warning. The Briton had been leading by 22.7s, with just 16 laps left to the chequered flag...

The failure was a massive blow to his title chances, and leaves him 23 points adrift of Rosberg with five races left. It also breached the wall he has built to contain his emotions after what has been a testing series of setbacks in terms of engine reliability issues. The fight is far from over, but Hamilton will need to be at his resilient best both on-track and off to overhaul Rosberg now.

If his immediate comments post-race stirred things up, it should be pointed out that he also went to all his crew while the race was still in progress. A few hours after, he offered a far more reflective and considered take on his rapid reversal of fortunes.

He'll need to draw on more of those reserves for the coming races: bouncing back in Suzuka next week will require all of his considerable fortitude.

Haas

The American team effectively lost one of their cars when an innocent Esteban Gutierrez picked up a right rear puncture on debris thrown up in the Rosberg/Vettel incident on the first lap and dropped to the back of the field. But Romain Grosjean was running a promising 10th when his VF-16 ran off the road under braking on the entry to Turn 15 on the eighth lap. The Frenchman did well to avoid hitting Fernando Alonso ahead - he reported that his brake pedal hit the floor, meaning he had to take emergency evasive action to avoid the McLaren.

If that was bad, worse was to come: on lap 39 Gutierrez lost his left front wheel, which detached itself from his car just as he was being lapped by Kimi Raikkonen.

It was determined that a mechanical failure had led to the wheel being tightly fitted, but not actually attached. An additional failure occurred in Turn 1 under braking, but the wheel was still retained in an abnormal way until the failure of the rim blew the wheel past the retention devices. 

A first double DNF - and a fine of €5,000 for an unsfe release - were the result.

Ricciardo's fellow podium finishers

'Encouraged' by Daniel Ricciardo and a delighted crowd, Christian Horner, Max Verstappen and Nico Rosberg were all convinced into drinking champagne from the Australian's race boot. As Rosberg smiled afterward, "I hope he doesn't win any more races this year...!"

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